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Recent research: six articles on wellbeing – meaning in life, reappraisal, positive emotions, and neighbourliness

Here are six research articles (see below for abstracts and links) loosely falling into the overall area of wellbeing.  Boyle, Barnes et al report on the association between purpose in life and mortality in older people.  They found that greater purpose in life was associated with considerably reduced mortality even when allowing for a series of possible confounders like depressive symptoms, disability, neuroticism, the number of chronic medical conditions, and income.  Also showing benefits for purpose and meaning, Maselko, Gilman, et al looked at religious involvement in the USA and and its associations with psychological health - specifically links between high, medium and low tertiles (dividing the study population into thirds) of spiritual well-being and religious service attendance and lifetime risk of depression. They found that "Religious service attendance was associated with 30% lower odds of depression. In addition, individuals in the top tertile of existential well-being had a 70% lower odds of depression compared to individuals in the bottom tertile. Contrary to our original hypotheses, however, higher levels of religious well-being were associated with 1.5 times higher odds of depression".

“Smile intensity in photographs predicts divorce later in life”

I do think that Matt Hertenstein and colleagues came up with an eye catching title here:

Hertenstein, M., C. Hansel, et al. (2009). "Smile intensity in photographs predicts divorce later in life." Motivation and Emotion 33(2): 99-105.  [Abstract/Full Text]  [Free Full Text]

Recent research: five papers on feeling good & improved functioning, on meaning & wellbeing, and on happy memories,

I seem to be making a habit this month of focusing on a specific journal when posting the weekly report on interesting recent research.  Last week it was the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  .  This week it's the Journal of Positive Psychology .  To quote the Journal's website: "Positive psychology is about scientifically informed perspectives on what makes life worth living. It focuses on aspects of the human condition that lead to happiness, fulfillment, and flourishing."  First published in 2006, the journal initially came out quarterly.  Now, in 2009, it's increasing its publication frequency to six issues a year - a pleasing sign of the increasing interest in this field.

Handouts & questionnaires for emotions, schema & personality

Here are a set of diverse handouts and questionnaires on emotions, schema and personality.  The "triangle of emotions" is a model I put together to help guide work on the longer term dysfunctional personality patterns that we probably all experience to some extent.  The "big five" is a very widely used way of assessing personality, and this "ten aspects" version I find particularly interesting.  There are then a series of handouts from Arnoud Arntz's fine work on understanding and treatment of borderline personality disorder.  I have found that Arntz's ideas seem more broadly helpful than just with borderline (which anyway is a poor descriptor for this emotional regulation disorder).  There are also some sheets derived from Young's associated work on schema. 

Handouts & questionnaires for emotions & feelings

Here are a set of handouts and questionnaires about emotions.  It seems helpful to understand emotions through an evolutionary perspective - we have emotions, to a large extent, because they had (and have) survival value.  We are the descendants of people with adaptive emotional systems that helped them stay alive and function well.  Typically unwelcome feelings that seem maladapitve are due to emotions that are firing off inappropriately.  As a rule of thumb, if an emotion is an appropriate reaction to a situation it can help us respond successfully.  If the emotion is inappropriate then it's likely to be more useful to work to change the emotional response - through therapy or other approaches. 

Emotions are like a ‘radar system' - this pair of Powerpoint slides, that I print out as a two-slides-to-a-page handout, introduces the idea of emotions as an evolutionarily adaptive system.  I use the metaphor of emotions as a 'radar & rapid response system' - normalising emotions and conceptualising emotional problems as inappropriate levels of activation in a basically adaptive system.   

New Year’s resolution – would you like to be happier?

So here's a blast from the past ... that could be fun and useful for a New Year's resolution.  I first came across Michael Fordyce's research year's ago (Fordyce 1977; Fordyce 1983).  It was probably the first serious scientific exploration of how to help people become happier that I'd ever read.  The approach involves a training called the "Fourteen Fundamentals".  These are fourteen characteristics of happy people, extracted from research, that Fordyce argued most people could develop for themselves.  The "Fundamentals" are: 1.) Be more active and keep busy.  2.) Spend more time socializing.  3.) Be productive at meaningful work.  4.) Get better organized and plan things out.  5.) Stop worrying.  6.) Lower your expectations and aspirations.  7.) Develop positive optimistic thinking.  8.) Get present orientated.  9.) WOAHP - work on a healthy personality. 10.) Develop an outgoing, social personality.  11.) Be yourself.  12.) Eliminate negative feelings and problems.  13.) Close relationships are the #1 source of happiness. 14.) VALHAP (value happiness) - the "secret fundamental".

Barbara Fredrickson’s recent research study on loving-kindness meditation (third post)

What are some implications for using forms of mind training for ourselves and for teaching others?  Reading this research study leads me to think about optimum amount of time spent practising these methods, the importance of encouraging application during daily life.  I discuss these issues in this blog posting.  It would also be fascinating and helpful to look at the challenge of maintaining the practices over time, and to consider how different forms of mind training can be directed at different targets - for example, easing symptoms, encouraging particular positive emotions (e.g. compassion, gratitude & contentment), targeting specific key wellbeing needs (e.g. self-determination theory's autonomy, competence & relatedness), and helping people live their personal values.

Barbara Fredrickson’s recent research study on loving-kindness meditation (second post)

I have already written an initial blog post about Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues' interesting recent research paper (Fredrickson, Cohn et al. 2008) on the effects of teaching people loving-kindness meditation.  So what are some possible implications of this research for people in general, for using forms of mind training (meditation, imagery, breathing techniques, self-hypnosis and relaxation) for ourselves, and for people who teach these approaches?

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